FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Feb 21, 2007

Outward Bound...for DOOM!

While watching the newly-released survivalist slasher flick Wilderness, I was struck by sudden flashbacks to my grade school film strip/movie days. I’m not insinuating, of course, that Eastern Point Elementary was ever set upon by a chainsaw-wielding cuckoo nutso slasher killer bearing a grudge...rather, it was the let’s send these troubled youths out into the wild for some character building! plot of Wilderness that got me thinking about all those Outward Bound movies we were forced to watch back then. I don’t know what exactly I was supposed to get out of watching troubled youths play trust games in the woods, but what I did get out of it was the thought “Self-esteem builder or no self-esteem builder, I’d rather set my face on fire and then put it out with a hammer than walk across a fucking rope bridge.”

Yes, even 11-year-old Final Girl used such foul language. And honey, believe me, you don’t even want to know the swear words I uttered concerning that movie we had to watch about cranberry farms. Anyway, on to the movie at hand...

A group of youth offenders are sent to The Island when the weakest member of their pack commits suicide after enduring nearly constant bullying.

No, I don’t mean the group is forced to sit through a screening of the 2005 Michael Bay crapfest The Island. Two wrongs don’t make a right, now, do they? What I mean is, the kids and their leader Jed (Sean Pertwee, of Event Horizon and Dog Soldiers) head to an actual uninhabited island to learn some lessons, bond, and get straightened out. Considering that they usually spend their days in a depressing cinderblock room, however, camping out and frolicking amongst the trees and rivers didn’t seem like much punishment to me, but whatevs.

During a walk, the boys come across some Blair Witch-style totems dangling from branches; as if that wasn’t enough to convince them they’re not alone on the island, they soon discover another campsite. Before you can say “What the--?”, we learn that there’s a second group of youthful offenders getting back to nature on the island as well, this one an all-female contingent led by ex-Special Forces Superstar Louise (Alex Reid, of The Descent and Arachnid).

"Damn...where the hell did I put my dreamcatcher?"

Louise and Jed decide that the groups should maintain a healthy distance, lest any troubled youthful hormones kick into overdrive and lead to troubled youthful trouble, if you know what I mean.

Umm…I mean sex.

The sex happens anyway, and when Callum (Toby Kebbell) comes across the very bloody, very dead body of a vagrant living on the island, the groups merge into one. Jed presumes Callum to be the killer, but Louise gets her Murder, She Wrote on and notices there’s big bite marks on the body. Hmm. Odd, that. Callum never bites people at home.

Soon enough another boy in the group goes missing; when his disembodied arm is spotted floating downriver, Jed and Louise decide enough’s enough and it’s time to head back to the mainland. Before they can even roll up their sleeping bags, however, the group suddenly finds itself under attack by an unseen archer.

A scene from Alex Reid 2: The Blondening

Jed gets pinned down and then out from the trees comes charging the source of the mysterious bite marks: it’s Hidden Archer’s Trusty Squadron of Elite Killer German Shepherds! Alas, poor Jed. I knew him, Horatio. No really, I do mean poor Jed- in a goretastic sequence, the vicious dogs set to chompin' him up, or “Le Munch-Munch”, as the French call it.

"I suppose you're all wondering why I've called you to this meeting..."

Louise isn’t long for the world either, as not even her Special Forces training can withstand the big bitey dogs. Sadly, she ends up pitched over a cliff, but at least she takes one of the bastards with her.

With the authority figures dead, the kids are completely on their own- will they band together to survive the onslaught and find a way off the island?

I know, I know…you’re thinking “Well, doy, of course they will. Stacie, haven’t you ever seen a horror movie before? Come on, the ragtag group of survivors always overcomes their differences to work together. I mean, really…what the fuck? You act like you’re all big, you’re all “I’m so big and I’ve seen this and I’ve seen that and horror horror blah blah swear word.” Pfft. It seems painfully obvious that you’ve never even seen a zombie movie, or you wouldn’t be asking if the survivors would band together. Man, you don’t know anything. And what’s with that outfit? And your hair? It’s called a brush- you should look into it. Ugh, why do I even read Final Girl? I am so Audi FiveThoudi. You suck!"

OK, first of all, I think you’re totally overreacting. Second, let's ease up a little on the italics, OK? It makes you seem terribly hostile. And third, I’ll have you know that the kids don’t band together against a common enemy in Wilderness. These are bad kids, after all, and they stay bad. True to character, they’re each only looking out for numero uno, and oftentimes they’re more of a threat to each other than outside forces are. So there.

And what’s wrong with my hair?

The unexpected (yet realistic) group dynamic is just one of the things I liked about this movie; then there’s also the approach taken to the subject matter. Essentially, Wilderness is a straight-up slasher flick, as it rather stringently adheres to the “rules” of the genre: an event early on in the story sets up a revenge plot later on, a group of teens is trapped in an isolated location, adults are ineffective or altogether absent, the killer has a signature weapon… it’s little more than a fill-in-the-blanks procedural on the surface. The film, however, manages to simultaneously be comfortably familiar and refreshingly original, thanks in large part to director Michael Bassett.

Bassett, you see, isn’t a product of Hollywood, and neither is Wilderness: both come courtesy of the new wave of British horror. Because of this, there’s a different sensibility brought to the proceedings, even to this most time-worn subject matter. It doesn't feel slick, overly stylized, or as if everyone involved is thinking "franchise money gimme gimme gimme!" This isn’t boardroom terror by committee- this is the plain and gritty horror of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s basic, it’s simple…and it works. While Wilderness isn’t a perfect film- it falters some in the third act as the “hunter becomes the hunted” and all that- it’s a hell of a lot better than yet another shitty remake or insufferable sequel, and I was thoroughly entertained.

The stalking sequences are pretty top-notch- the simple sound of a whistle, indicating an imminent dog attack, was a technique used particularly well. Those who like their horror bloody will be pleased with the gore content: this movie is pretty fucking gross at times. Again, I refer you to “Le Munch-Munch”. Once the group is under attack, the action doesn't let up much throughout the rest of the film.

While the more experienced actors in the movie, Reid and Pertwee, are killed off fairly early on, the younger cast also does a serviceable job- particularly Stephen Wight as Steve, the most troubled troubled youth. Speaking of familiar faces in the film getting killed, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the demise of Louise here and the demise of Beth in The Descent. Perhaps Alex Reid has found her niche, and every character she plays will end up with a touching death scene in a bloody pile whilst wearing a dark tank top.

So, Wilderness…it’s a new slasher flick that’s like an old slasher flick but doesn’t feel like a slasher flick you’ve seen ten million times before. Got that? Good. Check it out. I give it 7.75 out of 10 no really…what’s wrong with my hair?s.


Jesse Hammer said...

Yeah. I was reading about this one in Fangoria and it looked pretty interesting because of the Neil Marshall connection there.

I'll go slap this baby on my Netflix queue.

Anonymous said...

"Event Horizon" - ewwww...

Amanda By Night said...

This sounds really good and it also sound just a teeny bit like Humongous, although I gather it's also quite differnt, if that makes ANY sense.

Anyway Stacie, you see Humongous and I'll see Wilderness, K?

Anonymous said...

So I was once out in the woods with a bunch of guys on a summer program. We were divided into small groups each given the assignment of building a little bridge across a tiny creek. I don't remember if it was competitive or what, but it came to a sudden halt when one of the kids (not in my group) brought his hatchet down on the teacher's skull! No, I'm just kidding. It was his own thumb. Severed the thing pretty cleanly except for a strip of skin or a tendon or something that kept it flappily attached to his hand. Ow.

So I've largely stayed out of the woods...

And your hair's fine, Stace. Although the ear hair is a little lush...

Stacie Ponder said...

Amanda, I've yet to see Humongous, but reading plot summaries, it seems all the 2 films really have in common is that they're slasher flicks set on an island. As I said, if a slasher follows the rules, it's gonna sound like any other slasher that follows the rules. These movies seem quite difference beyond the superficial, though.

As I said, I haven't seen Humongous, so I could be wrong. I tried not to be all spoileriffic in this review because it's a new film and not everyone has seen it yet. It's definitely worth checking out, though, IMO. I'll check out your reccie too.

Bill, that's a horrifying story! Whetehr it be skull or thumbs, hatchets and flesh should never ever meet.

And I thought ear hair was 'in' this, I'm always way behind the curve.

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh, and no likey Event Horizon? I always thought most people did, but I'm slowly learning that my love for it puts me in the minority.

Of course, everyone who disagrees with me is wrong, so what does it matter?


Anonymous said...

You know, I wanna like Event Horizon...I really do. But somehow, I just don't. I love the tag line:

Infinite Space - Infinite Terror

Maybe that's the problem - the tag is so damn good, the movie just can't live up to it...for me.

Now (similar) flick I do like is the space stinker called "Supernova," starring James Spader, Robert Forster and Robin Tunney. So bad it's grrrreat!

Thanks4theadd said...

This is a really nice review, a great read! Enjoying your site a lot, thought I'd drop a line to say so.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be responding over two years later...buuuut:

"Of course, everyone who disagrees with me is wrong, so what does it matter?"

I find most of the people who dislike it are not so much haters of the film... they hate the director with a passion. I liked Event Horizon...and I always go back to the Halloween I screened it for a bunch of friends and everyone was shreiking, jumping and had a good time.